When: Saturday, September 17th, 6 PM
Where: Bowers Stadium, Huntsville, Tx.
2021 Record: 11-1; Lost in FCS Quarterfinals to Montana State, 42-19
Distance from Commerce to Huntsville: 233 miles
Overview: Without a doubt, the visit south down I-45 to face the Bearkats will, by far, be the measuring stick for the Lions team progress as they begin their transition into Division 1 FCS. The Bearkats have been perennial FCS playoff contenders, and it’s more than just making an appearance. Sam Houston almost always has a deep playoff run.
The Bearkats eschewed a fall season in the pandemic of 2020, and to their good fortune, the NCAA elected to play a spring schedule at the FCS level in 2020-21, and did Sam Houston ever take advantage. They swept through the season undefeated and won the National Championship in a thrilling 23-21 win over South Dakota State. During that run, Sam Houston also defeated #1 James Madison, #10 Monmouth, and the gold standard program at the FCS level, #6 North Dakota State. The Bearkats are big, fast, and they know how to win. Their record is 46-13 the past five seasons and sport a very good 14-5 playoff record.
Coach K.C. Keeler is in his eighth season at the helm and has a record of 79-22. In addition to his title at Sam, he also won a national title at Delaware in 2003 and has an overall playoff record of 25-8.
So You’re Sayin’ There’s a Chance: To borrow a quote from Jim Carrey in the movie Dumb and Dumber, yes, Lion fans, there is a much better chance than you might think. While the Lions open with games against Lincoln and Tennessee Tech, games that the Lions should win comfortably, Sam Houston makes the roughly one-hour trip down Highway 30 to College Station to face the Aggies of Texas A&M. They return home the next week to face Northern Arizona, a game they should win, before facing the Lions.
However, the following week, Sam Houston makes the annual trek to Houston for the Battle of the Piney Woods with former Lion coach Colby Carthel and rapidly improving Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks. Only a missed field goal at the gun denied SFA the FCS upset of the year in 2021. This scenario has all the makings of a flat spot, or trap game for the Bearkats, and an opportunity for the Lions to pull off an upset of their own. The kind of game that the Wizard of the Blacklands, Ernest Hawkins, would have loved.
One other thing: let us go back in time to 2015. Colby Carthel, then in his third season in Commerce, took a young, inexperienced, yet talented group into Huntsville to face a top 5 Bearkats team, and after a 39 yard strike from quarterback Harrison Stewart to wide out Lance Evans, the Lions suddenly had tied the game late in the third quarter, and absolutely silenced a crowded Bowers Stadium.
Despite a 432-yard performance from Stewart and 160 yard receiving night from Evans, the Lions youth showed, and the experienced Sam Houston team finally came out with a hard fought 38-24. The bottom line is, it was an extremely hard-fought contest, that, taking away some youthful mistakes by the Lions, could have easily resulted in a road win. Oh, in case you were wondering…. Sam Houston advanced to the FCS semifinals that season before falling to the North Dakota State juggernaut. The whispers around Huntsville, though, was that the Lions gave them their toughest challenge all season.
Lion fans, this is a very winnable game if they play the way the team appears to be capable of playing, and they don’t turn the ball over.
Meanwhile…with a hat tip to Brock Callaway and Charlie Chitwood, who like any other fans, are always looking for good food on a road trip, I have a couple of suggestions. Mr. Hamburger, a 1950’s style diner built in what used to be an old gas station, has some of the best burgers and shakes around. It is kind of strange, though, to look out the window across the street at the Walls Unit of the State Prison.
If, however, you’re in mood for barbecue, the Holy Smokes BBQ on 2601 Montgomery Road in Huntsville is the place to go. Owned and operated by members of the New Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, it is a little hidden gem of a place that is a true BBQ joint.